Kosher goes gourmet Food: In Pikesville, shoppers can find an unprecedented variety of trendy foods knishes, ravioli, cookies all of it certified by rabbis.

April 17, 1997|By Melody Simmons | Melody Simmons,SUN STAFF

Bring your palate to Pikesville these days and you won't be disappointed.

Here, in the northwest quadrant of Baltimore County, a national culinary trend known as gourmet kosher is simmering, as local chefs and even grocers concoct dishes and offer goods that reflect an emerging industry worth $3 billion.

And once you've had a sweet potato knish, kosher gumbo or a rabbinically sanctioned plate of pasta topped with spicy tomato sauce, there's no going back to that tired old jar of gefilte fish.

"Look, Welch's grape juice just came out kosher -- never before in the history of mankind," marveled Enid Friedman, owner of Mirakle Mart, a kosher-only grocery in the 6800 block of Reisterstown Road that boasts 17,000 products.

"Even Utz has just come out with a kosher potato chip," Friedman said. "These products give the kosher consumer the opportunity to enjoy foods fully."

The vogue sweeping Pikesville's main artery of delis and restaurants is national -- the number of kosher food products on the market is estimated to have increased to 38,000 from 17,000 a decade ago.

"Ten years ago, the kosher selection was very limited," said Menachem Lubinsky, president of Integrated Marketing Communications, a New York-based organization specializing in

the kosher and Jewish market. "There was more of an appeal to produce the basic staples.

"Then the number of consumers changed. We are looking at $3 billion in market goods in the last five years -- that is growing at a rate of 5 percent [per year]."

A kosher designation means each product is sanctioned according to Jewish dietary laws that originate in the Old Testament. Kosher kitchens must be certified by a rabbi, are immaculate and have separate sets of dishes and cookware for meat and dairy products -- and the two must never mix.

Kosher foods, in turn, are subjected to high standards. Animals must be slaughtered according to a ritual, produce grown under purified conditions and dairy products made according to ultrahigh standards.

Restrictions on producing kosher products limited the creativity

of so-called designer foods -- until recently.

Now, the delectable goods available surprise many a food maven and delight a new generation of kosher consumers that includes Jews, Muslims and even health enthusiasts.

So, welcome kosher curry dishes, ravioli, balsamic vinegar and, yes, a caviar substitute.

Will noshing ever be the same?

"We're in a new era," says Friedman, who opened Mirakle Mart two years ago. "Kosher will not make you extraordinary or strange -- and people like that."

At Mama Leah's, a gourmet kosher pizza carryout in the 600 block of Reisterstown Road, patrons can find a crust made with blessed flour, mozzarella cheese from kosher milk and tangy tomato sauce made with organic produce.

Specials are always meatless and feature a falafel pizza, an omelet pizza and -- the house specialty -- a cheesy white pizza. An Orthodox Jew presides over the kitchen and, according to Jewish law, opens the store each day.

Across the street, gourmet knishes line the display case at Zangwill's Knish Shop -- sweet potato, spinach and turkey stuffed inside a flaky dumplinglike pastry.

"We hate greasy foods," said Kenny Baum, who founded the shop 27 years ago and recently sold it. "We are gourmet status because we want something nice. Our store is quite unique because of the fact that we're able to serve meat, dairy or pareve [dairy- and meat-free] dishes and still be under rabbinical supervision."

Baum, who still works at the knish shop, said cooking is under way for Monday's beginning of Passover in separate kitchen areas of the store. For sale are 10,000 rolls and 10,000 matzo balls and a gourmet-seasoned apple-cinnamon kugel, or noodle pudding.

Such offerings don't surprise Lubinsky. For the past 10 years, his company has produced Kosherfest, a grand celebration of kosher products held in November at the Meadowlands in New Jersey. A site on the World Wide Web is even devoted to cyber kosher grazing at http: //www.kosherfest.com.

"We see amongst the 2,000 new kosher-certified products each year that a percentage are classified as gourmet," Lubinsky said. "It has something to do with lifestyle -- people are more affluent, looking for more products and want to eat better. And also, it's kind of a cycle -- as more products become available, consumers buy more."

Lubinsky said kosher products also are attractive to healthy eaters who favor the organic and purified methods of raising the meats and vegetables.

All this is evident in the aisles at Friedman's grocery store.

"We have very upscale foods -- but for the kosher consumer," Friedman said, pointing to jars of spicy sauce for buffalo wings, a chopped-basil-and-garlic spread and even Italian-style cookies.

"The kosher consumer wants to be like everyone else. Now, I don't think there's anything you can't purchase that's not kosher."

Pub Date: 4/17/97

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